[Marxism] How to get out of the mire of bourgeois politics

Anthony Boynton northbogota at yahoo.com
Fri Aug 17 17:20:04 MDT 2007


How to get out of the mire of bourgeois politics

A response to Lüko Willms
 
In Lüko Willms's explanation of what he means by
"electoral cretinism" he expressed an understanding of
the sensual, down, dirty, real-time reality of the
21st century that is a little off the mark, off the
base, and just plain off the wall. 

He wrote,

 "Bourgeois politicians tremble not so much by the
threat of losing an 
election, but by the threat of mass mobilizations,
which in turn may be 
a cause of them losing an election. But look at the
Social Democrats 
e.g. in Europe -- they fear much more a weakening of
the capitalist rule 
than their defeat at the polls." 

And, 

" When I criticize "electoral cretinism" in that
context, I have in 
mind contributions with the title "What is to be done
in 2008", which 
are only concerned about electoral combinations within
the framework of 
the US bourgeoisie's selection mechanism for their
next CEO to rule the 
planet. Aren't there other important class-struggle
events and 
developments going on? Does the ever expanding war
recede to second 
place? Is the irruption of the immigrants rights mass
mobilization 
forgotten, with its class-struggle and national
struggle elements?"

Sorry Luko that I did not spell things out for you.
The ever expanding war is THE POINT of my proposal. 

What I proposed was an ANTIWAR electoral party that
would challenge the Democratic and Republican parties.
The point would be to bring together whoever is to the
left of the Democrats to run on a common slate, with
candidates who might win press coverage, and have the
potential to get enough votes to affect the outcome
the elections even if they might not win the
elections. They could use the existing ballot access
of the Greens, Peace and Freedom Party, or other
existing ballot qualifed left party, or try to put
candidates on the ballot in some other way.

Of course this slate would be best if it included
immigrant rights leaders, trade union leaders, gay
leaders, etc. It's platform should be simple and to
the point. US OUT OF IRAQ AND AFGHANISTAN NOW. No,
if's and's or but's about it. (The rest of the
platform would could be written in lower case letters)
Sorry I didn't spell out the details for you.  BUT the
war is THE overriding issue in the USA and the world
today. It is the reason such an electoral intervention
is possible today in the United States and was not
possible even two years ago.

The first and most immediate reason for doing this
would be to mobilize voters in a way that would
threaten bourgeois politicians, like Nancy Pelosi and
Hilary Clinton. If you want to call this "maneuvering"
its okay with me, but it would not be maneuvering – it
would be offering the masses a path towards the exit
from the mire and muck of the bourgeois political
shrubbery.

Here are the 1,2,3s of the way most present day
bourgeois politicians in the United States, think and
act.

1. Bourgeois politicians in the USA usually don't give
a rat's ass about "mass mobilizations", since there
aren't any these days! 

2. They really care a lot about keeping their seats in
Congress, and even more in the White House, because –
individually and collectively those seats are the
immediate source of their power.

3. Most demonstrations and "mass" movements can
potentially mean VOTERS for bourgeois politicians, so
they try to co-opt protest movements. In the United
States the two party electoral system makes this easy,
but it has been developed further so that co-opting
protest movements is part of the elementary
functioning of the electoral system. 

Demonstrations are not, in and of themselves, a threat
to the system. 

Even when something close to "mass mobilizations"
happen, Democratic and Republican Party politicians
don't get too worried. NOT UNLESS the mobilizations
threaten to have some other important results, such as
a strike which threatens their profits (or those of
their friends), or is armed and dangerous, or in some
other way threatens the stability of the system (like
creating a third party on the left which could win
elections.)

Most demonstrations are seen by the capitalist
politicians as opportunities for mobilizing voters. It
is a bait and switch trick. You want to vote for or
against the issue at hand, but you are really
mobilized to VOTE for the particular bourgeois
politician and her or his party.

For example the Democratic mayor of LA used the
immigrant rights movement to mobilize voters to go to
the polls for the Democratic Party in last year's
elections. (The very same mobilizations were used by
the Republican Party in places like San Diego and
Orange County to mobilize racist white voters AGAINST
immigrant rights, but really for voting for GOP
candidates.)

Even really, really big demonstrations like the ones
in the 1960's at first were no big deal – until they
began to create a political climate which threatened
to produce MORE SERIOUS CONSEQUENCES:  – like the
immediate potential of losing the next elections,
fraggings of officers, desertions from the military,
riots, strikes, etc.*

Related to this point, Lüko Willms's interpretation of
what happened in the 1960's reveals another serious
misconception of reality. He wrote,

" This (the idea that a left electoral challenge in
2008 is a higher priority than demonstrations at this
movement, AB) is the attitude of activists mired in
the shrubbery of bourgeois politics which weakened the
Vietnam-war movement in the 1960ies and 
1970ies, causing a lull in the mass movement every
election year."

This repetition of the old Socialist Workers Party
line was wrong during the movement against the Viet
Nam War** in the 1960´s (when the line was new), and
is wrong now for the movement against the war in Iraq.
Here's why.

1. The United States has always been mired in the
shrubbery of bourgeois politics! There never has been
a mass workers party, social democratic party,
communist party, labor party, Bolshevik Party. All
social classes have always had some form of bourgeois
consciousness, and practiced bourgeois politics. The
left has always been marginal, even when it led a
section of the masses for a brief period of time.  

The activists of the 1960´s had to slog through that
mire. They didn't create it, it was the natural
environment that you had to fight against day in, and
day out. The question that needed to be answered then,
and needs to be answered now, was and is ... how to we
get out of this fucking MIRE!

2. The 1960's protest movement followed a two year
rhythm, based on elections, weather, and school
vacations. Cold winter weather, and long university
summer vacations caused lulls in the "mass movement".
So did elections. These factors were more powerful and
influential than the desires, strategies, or tactics
of the left as a whole.*

The result of these factors was that planning for
demonstrations usually resulted in organizing the
biggest demonstrations in April. Warmer spring weather
enlivened the less-than-wholly-committed. At the same
time the elections in November were now half a year in
the past, and all but the most die-hard believers in
the promises of the capitalist politicians were
getting pissed off and thinking about demonstrating. 

There was a lull in the movement during summer,
because students went on vacation. 

In September, at the beginning of the school year, the
second season for "mass mobilizations" began, but it
was aborted every other year by elections.

Every election year around September the mass media
and politicians started to use all of their power to
mobilize the mass of people to vote. And they promised
whatever they could to get people to vote for them.
For example, Richard Nixon promised that he had a
"secret plan" to end the war in Viet Nam (he won the
election, too.)

The more alert sector of the mass of the working class
and petty bourgeoisie, all still heavily mired in the
shrubbery – the very muddy shrubbery – of bourgeois
politics, paid attention. They listened, read
newspapers, and debated. Many became involved as
activists in election campaigns, almost always of
Democratic Party politicians. 

They started to hope that they could change something
if only they could find the right party and candidate
to vote for, campaign for, donate money to....

The mass's interest in demonstrating declined, their
interest in elections increased.

Nothing the activists could have done would have
prevented this anymore than they could have prevented
the tide in the ocean (without nuking the moon.)

There were five basic alternatives the activists could
choose from when the nearness of the elections began
to draw the masses away from the protest
demonstrations.

1) Become co-opted into the fraudulent campaign of a
Democratic Party peace candidate, or even a Democratic
Party candidate who was not for peace.

In 1964 the SDS supported Lyndon Baines Johnson for
President. 

In 1968 most of the protestors were sucked up, at
least during the primary election season, by the
campaign of Eugene McCarthy for the Democratic Party
nomination for the presidency.

Some left organizations, notably the Communist Party
USA, actively worked to demobilize the protest
movement, and funnel it into the Democratic Party.

2) Try to organize a third political party on the
left, something like the Linkspartei in Germany today,
or the Polo Alternativa Democratica in Colombia today.
This alternative was tried by a short lived coalition
of the Black Panther Party, the International
Socialists, and a hodge podge of Maoists. It created
the Peace and Freedom Party.

3. Ignore the movement of the masses away from the
protests and into the elections and try to build mass
demonstrations anyway. This was essentially the line
of the old SWP which Luko likes. 

(Of course, since the SWP had always run silly
sectarian election campaigns of its own to keep its
members busy during the Fall season, it also ran
candidates. Those campaigns were slightly useful to
them for snagging a few new members who became active
in the campaign committees, but were essentially
irrelevant to the wider mass movement.)

4. Build bombs and get guns and get down. Various
people attracted to Bobby Seale's faction of the BPP
and others attracted to the Weathermen went down this
path.

5. Light up a joint and watch TV.

For the sake of this response to Luko, I will put
aside options, 1, 4, and 5 and concentrate on the two
under discussion.

The SWP's strategy was both sectarian towards the
masses who were moving towards the elections, and
opportunistic towards imperialism.

The SWP did not support the building of the Peace and
Freedom Party in the United States as a left electoral
alternative to the two imperialist parties, even
though its participation could have enormously
strengthened the PFP. Its arguments were almost devoid
of real content. It said the PFP was not a working
class party, but a petty bourgeois party! And anyway,
real change happens through demonstrating.

Both arguments were spurious. Programmatically the PFP
was socialist from the beginning, and its social
composition was more working class than was the SWP's
in 1968! (And the SWP always participated in elections
anyway.) Real change happens through elections,
through strikes, through mass demonstrations, through
wars, through armed insurrections ... the issue was
really a question of the best strategy and tactics at
that moment, under those conditions.

A left electoral party which could have won a few
elections in what had been Democratic Party
strongholds could have pushed the Democratic Party
into deeper crisis at a time when it was already in
crisis because of the racist split from their party
led by George Wallace. 

Instead of a three party electoral race, which 1968
was, there could have been a four party race. The
SWP's abstention from that historic opportunity was
one of the reasons (not the only) that the PFP did not
become a more serious electoral challenge in that
year, or afterwards. (The window of opportunity was
still open in 1970, though it was rapidly closing by
1972.)

Besides the "proletarian principles" the SWP used to
justify their real electoral abstentionism, there was
another very unprincipled, but unspoken reason they
might not have wanted to rock the Democratic Party's
election chances: the SWP worked closely with
"anti-war" Democrats who served as the "big-name"
speakers at the major demonstrations organized by the
SMC and the NCAP (which were the anti-war
organizations led by the SWP). If the SWP had been
part of a more serious effort to unseat those
Democrats, that relationship would have been
jeopardized.

Had the Peace and Freedom Party been transformed into
a party which could win elections to seats in
Congress, and local offices, it could have also caused
a crisis in the electoral system in the USA. That
system is a carefully crafted winner-take all no
proportional representation system (totally unlike
those in Europe) in which the two parties effectively
have a power sharing system.

Of course, 2008 will not be a repeat of 1968, a lot
has changed. There is NO mass movement today. In 1968
there were two or three overlapping mass movements:
the student based antiwar movement, the youth
counterculture, and the black nationalist rebellion
...plus more movement rising. 

The movement that is struggling to form now is far
weaker in terms of activists, experience,
organization, money, and social consciousness.
(Joaquin is correct about this point.)

The fledgling movement of today is far more likely to
be swamped by the electoral tide than was the movement
40 years ago. This time the electoral tide is far, far
stronger.... more media, more money, a much longer
period of time.

Thinking that a mass movement is going to run into the
streets before 2009 is extremely wishful thinking. A
nice idea, and I hope it happens, but ....jeez Louise
don't go to Vegas and place your money on this one.  

However, opposition to the war, elemental, not class
conscious, not well versed in Marx – Karl, Groucho or
John - just a strong gut feeling that this war is bad,
is rapidly growing in the United States. Where will it
go to express itself? 

Mostly to the ballot box.

And, if there is no other alternative, it will go to
the Democratic Party, and next year's elections will
leave things pretty much as they are: deep in the mire
of the shrubbery of bourgeois politics.

If, however long a shot it may be  (given the size,
confusion, disorganization, and confusion of the left
in the USA) a left wing anti-war party offers serious
candidates that threaten the election of Democrats in
2008, then after the elections the "masses" or at
least a section of them, will have taken one important
step OUT OF THE MIRE.

Luko closed his polemic with these words, "Electoral
cretinism puts the reality on its head, giving
electoral maneuvers more importance than the real
forces of huge masses."

I would say that Luko is living in an imaginary world.
The huge masses are not yet in motion in the United
States, but there is a good chance they will start to
move by voting in the elections in 2008 for candidates
they think are most likely to end the war. 

Participating in elections is not always electoral
maneuvering. Sometimes it is the best way to begin
mobilizing the masses against capitalism. This is true
in Colombia and throughout Latin America today, and
for good material historic reasons.

And it is true in the United States, where the masses
are more deeply mired in bourgeois consciousness than
anywhere else on the planet (and also compared to any
other period in world history). I wouldn't say Luko's
ideas are cretinism (I wouldn't want to be so
offensive). Let's just say they are not of this world.

Luko's other- worldly polemic continued, 

"Of course, since taking the power out of the hands of
the bourgeoisie 
is the main strategic milestone for the working class
movement..."

Historically speaking this is true, but at the current
real world, real time conjuncture the MAIN STRATEGIC
MILESTONE we need to achieve is the formation of a
mass anti war movement in the United States. If such a
movement comes into existence than there will be the
real possibility for the masses to learn that they,
not the candidates, could be the real masters of
history. A good first step would be to offer them the
choice to vote against the two bourgeois parties FOR
candidates committed to unequivocally ending the war.

 BUT until this moment there is no antiwar party, not
much of a Green Party, no working class political
party, no mass movement, no vanguard party ... (And if
Luko has not noticed it, the immigrant rights movement
has disappeared from the streets- first because of its
illusions in what the elections last November would
bring, and second terrorized by the repression that is
now escalating against them.)

What should be done in 2008 according to Luko?

" It is an occasion to explain that our future does
not rely on having a "better" CEO for the political
and military affairs of the empire, but that it needs
taking power out of the hands of them altogether, and
explaining that only the mobilization of great 
masses in the streets, workplaces and centers of
learning can provide a 
solution, and that our candidate(s)' role is not
solving the problems 
for the masses, but only to be part of the struggle
outside of the 
election arena and help leading them."

Right. Go to the nonexistent mass movement to explain
to them that they need to take power. Bring along a
card table and a good supply of sectarian literature
to read while you wait. 

Joaquin may have dissolved himself out of the struggle
to wait for a few centuries, but Luko remains
political active as an adviser to the mass movement on
some other planet.

More later, Anthony 




       
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